This year, parents are especially excited to send their kids back to the classroom—and thus may get overzealous on the back-to-school shopping. Try these tactics to save major money on school supplies.

By Karen Wytmans
July 01, 2021
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Yep, back-to-school shopping deals are starting already. And after a tumultuous year, plenty of us are looking for ways to make the transition back to the classroom as smooth as possible. Unfortunately, in our great enthusiasm to support our children in their education, we often go a little overboard purchasing school supplies (I have been guilty of buying that 20-glue stick pack and dozens of unnecessary kitten-laden folders).

Especially this year, with all that pent-up desire to send our students back into the classroom ready for anything, we may find ourselves a little overzealous in our purchasing. Here are a few tips to keep costs down—without skimping on actual school preparation for our students. 

students wearing backpacks running towards school bus
Credit: Illustration by Francesca Spatola; Getty (1)

Communicate With the Teacher

Every classroom is different, and every school year is different too. The supplies that a high school student needs are vastly different from what a third grader might need. But regardless of age group, some classrooms may have received donated items that are available for your student at no cost. Make sure to check with your child's teacher to ensure that you are purchasing just what's needed—and refrain from buying unnecessary supplies out of habit, or because your student has required them in the past.

A little research may be helpful at this point; if your teacher has not communicated a list of supplies for the upcoming year, you can check the school's website for recommended supplies or find suggestions by grade level online. Don't feel like you need to have everything purchased on day one. If you're unsure, you can always wait to communicate with the teacher during the first week of school to find out what's required. 

Take Inventory

Before you hit the stores—but after you have the teacher's supply list—take an inventory of items you already have stashed away at home. There are often excess supplies around that aren't needed or used. Maybe even a few extra boxes of pens and pencils you forgot you hid away in a closet, perhaps?

You might be surprised by how many three-ring binders you forgot you even had. You can even reuse many durable items—such as binders, scissors, pencil cases, and rulers—year after year. Check the supplies you found at home against the teacher's list, and you may find that you're nearly done already.

Partner Up to Share on Bulk Items

Unlike binders, some things don't store well. Most wet craft supplies like paints, markers, and glue sticks will only last for one to two years, and yet they are often sold in large quantities to make us feel like we are getting a good deal. You might want to partner up with other families to buy in bulk year this and spread out those soon-to-expire supplies among many students. Partnering up could also be a great way to get to know other families with students the same age as yours.

Items that work well for these exchanges include the aforementioned craft supplies as well as more perishable school items such as erasers, pencils (with erasers), ballpoint pens, and highlighters. A little research can be helpful; this New York Times article reviews the best back-to-school supplies out there. Also, check online for the best prices, special deals, and coupons on the items you need to ensure you are saving the maximum.  

Make Purchases in the Off-Season

There are some items you will always need: multi-subject notebooks and binder paper will be necessary year after year. Keep an eye out for these items to go on sale at different times during the year and stock up when you see a reasonable price. Even backpacks can be purchased off-season and kept for the following year. If you choose to do this, stick to generic patterns (I know, it does seem like Baby Yoda will never go out of style today...)

Make sure you have one place at home where you store your excess school supplies. Then, when you are ready to take inventory, you can easily find what you need and avoid purchasing items you already have. To extend the life of your supplies, check out this article for tips on storing your craft supplies to ensure they will be ready for use when you pull them out of storage. 

Seek Out Donations

If you're experiencing financial difficulties this year, know that schools are often very eager to help out; check with the student services department to see if they have donated supplies available for free. Or they may know of events where you can pick up supplies. Many companies also make donations to families in need.

On the flip side, if you find you can spend a little more this year, look for places to donate supplies or make donations directly to your teachers. Teachers often spend quite a bit of their own money to ensure that everyone has what they need. In addition, Unicef hosts a school supply drive to support students in the U.S. and abroad. Every little bit helps.

If you follow these tips, you will be amazed by how much you can save. But let's not lose sight of what truly matters: Our students will be happy to be back in the classroom with or without a Grogu backpack. So this fall, focus on the experience of learning and celebrate (IRL) education; we now know better than ever not to take it for granted.